When 4GW Forces Weigh Becoming a State

At the most excellent site Jihadica, I found this obscure gem:

Interview with Umarov, North Caucasus Amir

More interesting is Kavkaz Center’s newly-released interview with Dokka Umarov, the amir of the North Caucasus Emirate that he declared at the end of 2007. Here’s what stands out:

  • The decision to declare an emirate was not taken lightly and occurred after much debate.
  • Umarov acknowledges that he has taken a lot of heat from fellow travelers for aligning himself ideologically with al-Qaeda and declaring war on the world.
  • The mujahids do control some territory, but their control is not absolute. Therefore, he does not want his supporters rushing to form a state.

The two translations, Arabic and English, diverge over what sort of state Umarov is talking about. In Arabic, he says he doesn’t want his supporters rushing to form an “actual state” (dawla fi`liyya). In English, he says he doesn’t want them rushing to form a “virtual state.” The difference is significant and if anyone can download the video and make out the right translation, I’d appreciate it

Almost two years ago, William Lind, musing on the prospects of the much more militarily and politically formidible HAMAS terrorist group, pointed to the question for 4GW entities “To Be or Not to Be a State”:

Normally, that captured Israeli would be a Hamas asset. But now that Hamas is a state, it has discovered Cpl. Gilad Shalit is a major liability. Israel is refusing all deals for his return. If Hamas returns him without a deal, it will be humiliated. If it continues to hold him, Israel will up the military pressure; it is already destroying PA targets such as government offices and arresting PA cabinet members. If it kills him, the Israeli public will back whatever revenge strikes the Israeli military wants. Hamas is now far more targetable than it was as a non-state entity, but is no better able to defend itself or Palestine than it was as a Fourth Generation force. 4GW forces are generally unable to defend territory or fixed targets against state armed forces, but they have no reason to do so. Now, as a quasi-state, Hamas must do so or appear to be defeated.

….Hamas faces what may be a defining moment, not only for itself but for Fourth Generation entities elsewhere. Does it want the trappings of a state so much that it will render itself targetable as a state, or can it see through the glitter of being “cabinet ministers” and the like and go instead for substance by retaining non-state status? To be or not to be a state, that is the question – for Hamas and soon enough for other 4GW entities as well.

Statehood appears to be a risky tipping point for an irregular movement to cross.  A strong insurgency only makes for a vulnerable state and a targetable, semi-disciplined, conventional force unless the new state can devote years and resources to consolidating it’s fragile position. For that reason, in the era of State vs. State warfare, guerilla armies were careful to create separate civilian political wings or, better yet, “governments-in-exile” that could safely operate in some remote capitol, playing the diplomatic game of winning legitimacy under the protection of a foreign power. This is not an option for 4GW movements because being an overt pawn of foreign powers conflicts with the ability of the 4GW entity to compete on the moral level of warfare with the regime.

What about “virtual statehood” ?

This is easier to manage, being mostly free of the responsibilities of governance of fixed territory. A virtuual state is still targetable, being composed of social and economic networks but it is a highly elusive target, very adaptive, quickly evolving and with a propensity toward symbiotic behavior, grafting itself onto a host nation-state, willing or unwilling, such as Pakistan in the case of al Qaida ( and before Pakistan, Afghanistan. And prior to that, Sudan).

Wielding sophisticated information networks, the virtual state can cultivate primary loyalties anywhere on Earth that is within range of an ISP or area of mobile phone reception.

3 comments on this post.
  1. CurtisGale Weeks:


    Do you know the name or concept for the way dialectically opposite forces in a dichotomous situation (redundancy?) serve to reinforce one another? For some reason my mind isn’t coming up with it at the moment


    I ask because of this quote from Bobbitt at the link you gave for Global Guerrillas:

    the Al Qaeda network is a sort of virtual state, with a consistent source of finance, a recognized hierarchy of officials, foreign alliances, an army, published laws, even a rudimentary welfare system. It has declared war on the U.S. for much the same reason that Japan did in 1941: because we appear to frustrate its ambitions to regional hegemony.

    That "regional hegemony" has stark similarity to your question concerning the desire for statehood in 4GW forces.  Is it then that the state or market-state which is strong forces the 4GWishness of opponents but that those 4GW forces, should they exceed the power of a state or market-state would become "regionally hegemonic," i.e. effectively a state or perhaps market-state?


    If so, it would seem that the relationship isn’t two-way.  I.e., the state or market-state doesn’t need the 4GW force to exist or continue existing, unlike the 4GW force which needs an oppositional state or market-state.

  2. Seerov:

    I guess its best to think about this from the point of view of Hamas or AQ.  Given the choice, I do believe both of these groups wish to control a geographic area.  Whether they have official "State" status probably doesn’t matter?  IOW, I don’t think they care whether they’re represented at the UN or are eligible for IMF loans?  They just want to control a piece of land in order to control the way of life. For AQ, this controlling of land is not only for the above purpose, but also to have a "base" in order to organize for the controlling of more land. 

    With that said, the worst mistake these groups could make is to start developing their security forces in the same manner as a State.  Their best strategy is to accept the fact that can’t hold territory to State Armies, but to enhance their ability to fight 4GW or insurgency type wars.  In fact, they should just let invading armies "come on in" and hopefully they’ll declare "victory."  Later, when the invading State starts taking casualties–and people start seeing heads get cuts off–this declaration of victory will be a political issue.

    Of course, then the question comes up of who exactly assumes the leadership role of this geographic entity?  And that’s where the strength of a kinship based system is most obvious.  The leadership of this geographic area will be based on micro-geographic areas and tribal networks. There can be some sort of "council of elders" but the best idea is to have no real central leadership.  If Prussia was an "Army with a State" then AQ or Hamas will be an "insurgency with a geographic area."  The geographic area will be organized around its 4GW capabilities and will in many ways, be the perfect "resilient community" that John Robb as talked about. 

    If Hamas or AQ does it right, there will be no obvious leadership. This way, State forces can’t "decapitate" any leadership and after invading it, will have no idea who the leadership even is?  For a group like AQ–or other Wahhabist Islamic groups–we can think of their geographic area as a "little Caliphate."  The idea is to grow it, but at the same time, to keep it unclear on where it stops or starts.  This "little Caliphate" can also include areas which are part of other "official" States.  Right now, AQ’s "little Caliphate" is Waziristan, and the parts of Afghanistan that the US, NATO, or Afghan forces don’t control.  What the word "control" actually means is the topic for a latter discussion. 

  3. A.E.:

    Al Qaeda’s example is useful here. Nowhere in the mountains and mountains of jihadist discourse do you see anything describing how the caliphate will be governed. Many 4GW movements are ethnic and religious in origin, and do little except harken back to a supposed golden age before modernity. They do not propose any revolutionary system of governance that is supposedly scientifically better than democratic capitalism (like the Soviets did). That being said, the fact that these movements have wide appeal says a lot about how many people feel about modernity and the state.